Almost a century ago, in 1923, Anthony Assef arrived in Australia from Lebanon with his eldest son Fred, and soon after, opened the first Assef’s store in Quirindi. As the business prospered he was able to send for his wife, Azzizie, and the remainder of the family, John, Azziz, Sam and Bert. His only daughter, Freda, migrated with her husband, Charlie Serhan. Anthony Assef’s youngest son, Abraham, was born in Quirindi and went on to graduate in Medicine from Sydney University. Abe was the only one in the family who did not enter the “rag” trade.
John, Azz, Sam and Bert were educated in Quirindi where learning to speak English was top priority for these aspiring young businessmen.
In 1938, the Assef – Serhan family took over the shop in Heber Street, Moree, then known as “Maceys”. By 1940, World War 2 was raging in Europe and this was the year the Assef family acquired the present site of the Assef business in Balo Street, and the very modern ‘Art Deco’ building was erected and opened towards the end of 1940. The upstairs facade of the original Art Deco design is still well preserved.
This building was the inspiration of John Assef who had to convince his father Anthony to get the “go ahead” to establish the building and business during the very difficult early days of war. Throughout manpower shortages, clothes rationing, lack of transport and other wartime problems, the business was opened as planned before Christmas 1940.
It was a success right from the beginning due to the hard work, persistence and attention of all concerned. Moree at that time was a small isolated town served by gravel and black soil roads and the railway. The local school was a collection of peeling weatherboard buildings, and the curriculum was a very basic one. The banks, churches, hotels and Memorial Hall were the outstanding buildings of the time and the corner A.C. Reid retail store dominated the business sector. Balo Street was fronted by many weatherboard business premises, so the new Assef’s building drew a lot of attention.
John managed and ran the business with a staff of five or six until November 1942, when he entered the Australian Army. During his absence, Azz and Sadie Assef left the family shop in Scone to conduct the “new business” in Moree. Azz and Sadie left Moree in January 1948 but returned in 1951. Alf Scott joined the staff at Assef’s in July 1948 and fifty-seven years later, retired in 2005.
John went to Lebanon in 1950 where he married his lovely wife – young schoolteacher Mona. They returned to Moree in November 1950 and in the following years their children Antoinette, Paul and Rhonda were born. John was always set on doing ‘better” at all he undertook and set out to improve and add to the comfort and appearance of the store during the ensuing years.
Air-conditioning was introduced to the store, and we believe Assef’s was the first rural store to have this wonderful comfort during the extremely hot summers. The floors were carpeted, the layout of the store modernised, neon lighting was installed, and many new labels in clothing, footwear, country gear and fashions were introduced to Moree. Purchasing the next-door building and creating a modern arcade, upstairs offices and flats was the big step taken in 1970/71. This greatly improved the Balo street frontage and added to the business facilities in the centre of Moree.
Also during the 1970’s the site of the present ladies and children’s departments was opened up and integrated into the main building. In 1995, with his son Paul Assef at the helm, John moved quietly into semi retirement. Major modernisation was undertaken bringing the store into the 21st century. This renovation was a huge task, employing a large workforce of local and specialist tradesmen and artists to ensure that the scheduled re-opening of the store in August 1995 took place as planned. In October 1999, John Assef passed away at the age of 87, followed by his brother Azz in July 2003.
Paul was highly motivated – as was his father John Assef and constantly sought out new labels, including many international designer labels in clothing and footwear to retail in the modern Moree store. Much of the arcade has now been incorporated into the main store. This work began in 1995 along with other major renovations, and then finalised in 2006 to create the current “surf-shop”.
Paul passed away in February 2010, and his wife, Keryn, continues to manage the business today. John’s wife, Mona, has been a tower of strength to John, Paul and Keryn throughout the years. The fourth generation of Assef’s can be proud of the Assef participation in advancing the retail trade in Moree.